Document 47

Communiqué re: Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church



Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church


From the 9th to the 16th of September in the city of Winnipeg, Canada, the 2012 Synod of Bishops[1] of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church[2] took place in which participated 38 bishops from Ukraine,[3] USA, Canada, Australia, countries of central and western Europe and South America – including emeritus bishops from Europe, the US, Canada and Argentina.

The occasion to hold the Synod in Canada was the celebration this year of the centenary of the arrival to this country of the first Ukrainian Bishop – Blessed Nykyta Budka. The hierarchy of the UGCC from around the world came to Canada to celebrate this special jubilee together with the Archeparchy of Winnipeg and to give thanks to God for His guidance over this entire period. The Synod Fathers, having participated in the celebrations and having met with many of the Faithful in parishes throughout the province of Manitoba, joyfully noted that regardless of the time that has past and the circumstances in which they find themselves, Ukrainian Catholics in Canada have found a way to maintain ecclesial and even cultural identity. A key role in the preservation of this identity, in the opinion of the observers, was played by the local Ukrainian Catholic Church itself, but also by Ukrainian organizations and education institutions. At the same time, it was also observed that today it is necessary to adapt new pastoral approaches, in order to support and develop the ecclesio-cultural consciousness of our Faithful – especially the young.

The Beginning of the Synod

             On 8 September 2012, the Bishops of the UGCC visited the church of St. Joseph at which is also located the shrine of the Hieromartyr Blessed Vasyl’ Velychkovsky.[4] His relics were transferred here shortly after his beatification by Pope John Paul II in 2001. The Synod Fathers, as is their custom, prayed a Moleben’ to the Holy Spirit and also prayed at the tomb of the blessed bishop and martyr. It is here that they took an oath for the fulfilment of their duties and to maintain due confidentiality about the synodal proceedings.

The official act of the opening of the Episcopal Synod took place the following day on 9 September 2012 in Winnipeg at the solemn celebration of the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy in the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Equals-to-the-Apostles Sts. Volodymyr and Olha. In this inspiring liturgy, the Synod Fathers were joined by guest bishops, many priests and deacons, women religious and many lay-faithful.

During his homily, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, the Father and Head of the UGCC, greeted everyone on the occasion of the 100-year jubilee of the appointment and arrival of Blessed Hieromartyr Nykyta (Budka), the first bishop of the UGCC in Canada. The Head of the UGCC noted that with the arrival of the first bishop to Canada we can speak of the establishment in this country of a Ukrainian Catholic hierarchy with its own structure and its own eastern Christian identity. Referring to the text of the Gospel for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, where it speaks of the invitation to the wedding feast (Mt. 22:1:14), His Beatitude Sviatoslav made a comparison of the servants of the parable and the bishops of the UGCC who were, for the first time, gathering in Synod in Canada. The Bishops, like the servants of the heavenly Father are sent to invite everyone to take part in the banquet of the Kingdom of God. “Today, as we celebrate this Divine Banquet and remember the 100-years of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, our Church renews the invitation to the table of God’s love and calls upon everyone in this country – Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike – those of Ukrainian heritage and all people of goodwill, to become sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father”. The Head of the UGCC also invited everyone present to be conscious of the unity of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, remembering that they are members of “a great family of God, a family that remembers you, loves you, wants to support you and asks for your support”.

             At the opening of the Holy Synod, there were also guest bishops: the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Winnipeg, James Weisgerber, representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; and His Eminence Yurij (Kalishchuk), the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada in Communion with Patriarch of Constantinople. The guests brought words of greeting, expressing their happiness that the Synod of Bishops would take place here on Canadian soil, and their offered their prayers and wishes that the Holy Spirit would guide the synod through successful work. His Beatitude Sviatoslav thanked the guests for their kind wishes and expressed his desire for an ever deeper cooperation between the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church and Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Canada as well as between the many Ukrainian lay organizations active in Canada.

             The working sessions of the Synod began on Monday 10 September 2012. In his addresses on the first day of the synod, His Beatitude Sviatoslav analysed the past and present state of development of the UGCC, actual tasks that the UGCC must take up, as well as internal and external challenges that can pose as obstacles to the Church in the fulfilment of its sacred mission in the world.

Main Theme of the Synod: “The Role of the Laity in the Life and Mission of the Church”

On Tuesday, 11 September 2012, the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC focused their attention on the principal theme of “The Role of the Laity in the Life and Mission of the Church”. A number of talks and joint presentations were made that shed light on the biblical and theological foundation of the vocation and mission of laity in the Church (Fr. Taras Barschevsky, UCU);[5] the historical context for the development of lay movements in the UGCC (Dr. Oleh Behen, UCU); the activity of the laity in the parishes of the UGCC today (Rev. Dr. Andrew Onuferko, MASI).[6] The results of surveys of the laity with regard to their views on their role in the life and mission of the Church were also presented (Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak). The theme of the liturgical life of a parish was also presented to the Synod Fathers by Bishop Benedict (Aleksichuk), the head of the Patriarchal Commission on Liturgy.

The main thought of the presentations was that laypersons belong to the consecrated people of God, and they are heirs of the Covenant and are the beneficiaries of the promise of Salvation. At the same time, it was also very clear, that the question now was not so much about the identity of the laity, but about  their mission as members of the one People of God to be “living stones” (1 Pt. 2:5) for the building up of the Church and to be witnesses of God’s holiness in the world. The Church needs such men and women that are capable of being active and creative collaborators with the pastors in Church life, while remaining protagonists in various spheres of life in the world, bringing Christian witness to the family, to places of work, where they live. The Laity must be collaborators with the bishops and priests in pastoral work and with their giftedness and by their talents contribute toward the building up of the Body of Christ, which is the Church, and in the proclamation of the Kingdom of God in the world.

During discussions of the presentations the Bishops with gratitude acknowledged the dedication and sacrifice of the Laity of the UGCC, their role in the preservation of the Faith in the difficult socio-political circumstances of the 20th Century. The holiness of the Laity of the UGCC was recognized by the whole Catholic Church, in particular through the beatifications of the Pratulyn Martyrs and of Blessed Volodymyr Pryjma.[7] The Bishops emphasized the importance of the role of the laity and, therefore, the importance that must be given to the spiritual care and pastoral care of the family as well as the catechization of children, youth and adults.

            Following the plenary sessions, the Fathers of the Synod worked in thematic groups: “The Role and Vocation of the Laity in the Realization of the Missionary Role of the Church in the Light of the Pastoral Letter of His Beatitude Sviatoslav on Theme of a Vibrant Parish”, also, “An Analysis of the Internal Agents and External Circumstances that can Promote or Impair the Fulfilment of the Lay Mission in the Church and in the World”. In conclusion, after studying the main theme, the members of the Synod made a series of decisions designed to help the Laity to better appreciate their mission in the Church, to grow in faith and charity and to become ever more capable of sharing their faith with others. To give the Laity a living example of the service of God and neighbour in the Church, the Bishops proclaimed Blessed Volodymyr Pryjma as the patron of Laity of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and encourages all the Faithful to promote the veneration of the lay Saints of the Ukrainian Church. The Synod Fathers directed a separate Pastoral Letter to the Laity of the UGCC, in which the Bishops gave thanks to God for the gift of holy Baptism, through which the Lord blessed our people, and they expressed their gratitude to the laity for preserving the holy faith, especially in the challenging circumstances of immigration and during the times of Communist persecution in Ukraine. They also stressed the continued importance of the role of the laity in the building up of the Body of Christ and for the fulfilment of the mission of the Church. The special importance of the family was also emphasized as to how it must be a “true school of prayer and Christian love”. The bischops as well invited the laity to an active participation in the life of the parish, taking into account the program for the development of the UGCC “a vibrant parish – a place of encounter with the living Christ”.

Other Themes of the Synod

An important part of the strategy of the UGCC from now until 2020 is the adaptation of the ancient practice of the Catechumenate for the Church’s contemporary pastoral needs, which will consist of gradual and systematic introduction into the mystery of the Christian Faith for adults who desire to become part of the UGCC. This will be accomplished through the Holy Sacraments of Christian initiation, and also by a deepening of the faith of Baptized members of the Church, who have not had the opportunity to experience an appropriate catechesis.

The Members of the Synod also deliberated about individual questions regarding canon law and matters of an administrative nature. In particular, they discussed the project of the new revision of Particular Law of the UGCC; they heard reports about the activity of the Patriarchal Curia and other commissions and departments on the patriarchal level of administration. The report from the Chair of Working Group for the implementation of the strategy of “The Vibrant Parish – the Place of Encounter with the Living Christ” was also heard. Also reports were presented by the General Director of the Administration for Justice as well as reports from individual Synodal committees. This year very comprehensive reports were made by the Committee on Youth, the Committee on Migrants and Refugees, the Canonical-Legal Committee and the Committee on Catechesis and Christian Education. On the basis of these reports, a number of decisions were made for the betterment of the activity of the Church in various spheres of pastoral and social ministry.

Analysing the phenomenon of migration in today’s world, the situation of Ukrainian migrants and the activity of the Church with regard to the provision of appropriate care for them, the members of the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC expressed their worry over the now extended and massive exodus of people from Ukraine. A succession of decisions were made to support them in foreign lands and so that their religious and cultural identity would not be allowed to be lost.

Discussing the matter of Catechesis, the Synod decided to include the study of the “Catechism of the UGCC” in educational and formation programs for both clergy and laity; to develop new catechism programs based on the Catechism of the UGCC   and in the spirit of the Christian tradition of the Volodymyran Baptism,[8] and to better the catechism effort in countries where the structures of the UGCC still need to be established.

An important event of this year’s synod was the election of a new composition of the permanent synod. The members of the permanent synod for the next five years will be: Archbishop Volodymyr (Vijtyshyn), Metropolitan of Ivano-Frankivsk, Bishop Ken (Nowakowski), Eparch of New Westminster, Bishop Yarolsav (Pryriz), Eparch of Sambir-Drohobych and Bishop Borys (Gudziak), newly appointed Apostolic Exarch for Ukrainian Catholics in France, Switzerland and the Benelux countries.

The work of the Synod Fathers was guided throughout by personal and liturgical prayer. On the day of spiritual renewal, 13 September, which was conducted by Rev. Dr. Andrew Onuferko, the members of the Synod meditated on the Word of God and also explored the biblical and spiritual significance of a Synod. In prayer they asked for the grace of the Holy Spirit that their decisions would conform perfectly to the Will of the Lord. Besides their personal prayer schedule, the Bishops daily prayed the Divine Office and celebrated the Divine Liturgy, during which a designated preacher from among the participants of the Synod was invited to preach on a spiritual theme.

The Synod of Bishops of the UGCC sent greetings to the Holy Father Benedict XVI. Responding to the initiative of the Universal Pontiff, the Synod of Bishops declared 2013 to be the Year of Faith in the UGCC, and established a separate committee responsible for the planning of appropriate spiritual events for the whole church in the context of the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Rus’-Ukraine.  Synodal letters were directed also to Archbishop Richard Smith, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchy of North America; the Governor General and Prime Minister of Canada;, Ukrainian community organizations active in Canadian territory, and to the Knights of Columbus of Canada. In a separate letter, the Bishops addressed the President of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych.

After the close of the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC on Sunday 16 September 2012 the hierarchs celebrated the Divine Liturgy in various Ukrainian Catholic parishes in the city of Winnipeg and other parishes throughout the province of Manitoba. In these pastoral visits, arranged by Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak, they thanked God for His care for the people, especially over the 120 years of Ukrainian immigration to Canada and for the 100-year jubilee of the arrival in Canada of the first Ukrainian Catholic Bishop – Blessed Hieromartyr Nykyta Budka. They also attended a Gala banquet held on the occasion of their visit to Canada and the Blessed Nykyta Jubilee, at which His Beatitude delivered the keynote address.

Next year the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC will take place in Kyiv-Ukraine from the 11th to the 13th of August, 2013. The main theme chosen for the 2013 Synod of Bishops is, “The UGCC and the New Evangelization”. At that time, the Synod Fathers will also take part in the solemnities in Kyiv to commemorate the 1025 years since the Baptism of Rus’-Ukraine.  The Synod has decided to organize an all-church pilgrimage to the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv, and has called upon the clergy, the religious, and laity of the whole Church to take an active part in it.

The Synod expressed their thanks to Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak, and the Synod Organization Committee for their extensive preparation and exemplary organization of the Synod proceedings. The Synod Fathers expressed their heartfelt gratitude to all the People of God of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for their prayerful support of their synodal work and call upon them for further collaboration in the building up of the Church in Ukraine and in the diaspora.


Some notes added by the English translator…


[1] Presently the Synod is held annually

[2] In this translation the titles “Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church” and “Ukrainian Catholic Church” are used interchangeably. The former is a pre WWII name used for the Church and still used in Central Europe, while the latter is the common name used in North America at least since the Second Vatican Council.

[3] Due to health issues, not all 49 bishops were able to travel  to Canada at this time

[4] “Hieromartyr” a priest (ierei) who becomes a martyr. In this case: a bishop-martyr. Bishop Vasyl’ Velychkovsky was an underground Bishop of the  Ukrainian Catholic Church, He was arrested and spent many years in Soviet prisons. He was ‘exiled’ in 1972 and made his way to Canada, but since he was so severely abused, he died within a year. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001 in Ukraine.

[5] UCU = Ukrainian Catholic University, the first Catholic university in the territory of the former USSR, located in the city of Lviv, Ukraine.

[6] MASI = Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky Institute / of Eastern Christian Studies, located at the University of St Paul in Ottawa, Canada.

[7] Pratulyn Martyrs, In 1874 a group of Eastern Catholic lay faithful who stood in front  of  their church singing hymns to  defend it from Russian Tsarist troops who came to ‘transfer’ it to the another denomination. They were fired upon. 13 died. In 1941 Bolshevik NKVD agents took Volodymyr Pryjma, a church cantor and husband and father of two young children, and the parish priest (Fr. Konrad) out into  the forest near the village. They literally tortured them to death. Volodymyr’s body was found a week later.

[8] The Baptism of the people of his real decreed by St. Volodymyr the Great in 988.